Fluid Potential

You can’t participate in an EdChat or read an EduBlog these days without someone mentioning growth mindset. The work of Carol Dweck and Jo Boaler around fostering growth mindsets has found its way into school districts around the world. More recently, there has been a groundswell of students talking the growth mindset talk. The growth mindset movement has really opened people’s eyes to what is possible! The idea that intelligence isn’t fixed gives students of all ages, dispositions and abilities a reason to persevere.

The SCDSB Math Action Plan is a great example of engaging the caring adults in our students’ lives to inspire positive math mindsets. There is also an excellent post in Sharing Simcoe by Kristen Fennell that helps parents promote positive mindsets in math. But, there is still something missing…

There are two areas where I think we have continued work to do;
1. Modelling from the classroom to the boardroom
2. Creating a fluid notion of potential

A growth mindset isn’t just for kids. It opens up possibilities for teachers, administrators, superintendents and whole school systems. We can’t expect to foster a genuine growth mindset in our students if we don’t model it ourselves. This means teachers being open to learning and growing, administrators and superintendents being open to innovation and school boards and governments being open to transformation. I can see a reverse mentoring system emerging. As students develop their growth mindset, the adults in their lives will see it modeled for them. School systems and governments will see it modeled by teachers, administrators and system leaders. Like all good and sustainable change, it needs to be modeled from the classroom to the boardroom.

We talk a lot about helping students reach their potential. The trouble is that if we talk about potential as a static web graphicstate, we limit the possibilities for students. Our potential changes over time. It can expand given the right conditions and shrink when malnourished.We are the ones who set the conditions for success for our students.

If a student’s potential is the same today as it was yesterday – the same in June as it was in September, we have failed them.

Our role for the students in our classes, the teachers in our schools and the leaders in our systems is to continually expand their potential. Full potential is never realized because it doesn’t exist yet. It is in our tomorrows. Each new experience, interaction, connection or learning expands potential in a multitude of directions.

However, people get grumpy when you keep moving the target. As much as we are trying to re-frame failure as a growth opportunity, I think the word success can be far more limiting. To so many, success means you are done. You have achieved the goal and there is no further learning to be done here. I agree we need to celebrate learning and achievements, but if we don’t move the target we become complacent. The move from teaching answers to teaching students to ask good questions is a great example of continuous learning, discovery and innovation.

When people see their abilities, capacities and potential as expandable, they are liberated to try new things and more importantly, try again and again.


One thought on “Fluid Potential

  1. For a long time now, I have struggled to define the terms ‘smart’ and ‘successful’. I find it refreshing that the growth mindset movement is reshaping the definition of ‘smart’ to include the ability to persevere and to engage in sustained effort. I like how you challenge the perception that success has an endpoint.

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